Coconuts are native to the Asia-Pacific region of the world and have long occupied a place in Hindu religious practice, first appearing in Sanskrit literature in the fourth century B.C. For example, two major Sanskrit epic tales, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata both feature coconuts. Today, coconuts have significance within the Hindu religion and play a role in a variety of rituals.
Coconuts have symbolic importance within Hinduism. The coconut's rough exterior fibers look like hairs, and its round shape and three eyes resemble a face. For this reason the coconut has been used to represent the three eyes of the Hindu god Shiva. The coconut can also symbolize a proud heart as it is has a rough exterior but the fruit within is sweet and tender.
In the Hindu religion, puja involves honoring and connecting with a deity or divine spirit. During puja, Hindus make an offering to the deity and receive a blessing in return. Both the fruit and leaves of a coconut may be used during puja. The coconut fruit is used to represent a divine consciousness and is often displayed with its leaves in a copper pot called a kalasha.
During the annual Aadi festival, celebrated mid-July to mid-August, Hindus worship the goddess Amman. One ritual practiced during the festival is that of breaking open coconuts over the heads of the faithful. The ritual is representative of fulfilling a personal commitment or gratitude to the goddess for her blessings. This practice can sometimes result in minor injuries to the participants, resulting in authorities preventing those below a certain age from engaging in the coconut-breaking ritual.
Components of the coconut palm are incorporated into a variety of Hindu rituals. Some Indian coastal villages that make a living primarily through the fishing industry present offerings of coconuts to ensure calm, bountiful seas. In the state of Kerala, the largest producer of coconuts in India, coconut flowers are planted in rice bowls and displayed during wedding ceremonies. Instead of smashing a bottle of champagne, Hindus may break coconuts when blessing a new home or business venture.
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